Ever since the beginning of the free agency Monopoly-money movement, baseball separated into two strata, the” big market money to burn” teams and the small market have-nots. And for the most part, there was a sort of equilibrium. To be sure, the Yankees, Red Sox and their ilk made it to the playoffs more than say, the Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates, but certain small market teams would break into the World Series and even win it from time to time. The 2002 Angels won it all with a roster that cost $61 million, or about half of what the Yankees cost. The next year, the Florida Marlins won it all with a budget of $49 million. The White Sox and the Astros fought it out in 2005 with middling budgets of roughly $75 million. The Rockies made it to the Series with one of the lowest budgets in baseball for 2007. So did the Tampa Rays in 2008. In fact 8 different clubs won the World Series since 2001, and 13 different teams were in it. To be clear, we’re not saying the game is balanced fair and square; we’re saying certain teams have a plan to make he best with the smaller revenue they have.
And a big part of that plan is, trade expensive older players to a desperate big market team, for young cheaper talent. The Oakland A’s have been doping it for years. Toronto did it last winter with Roy Halladay. The Indians did it with Victor Martinez last summer. And so on.
However, recently that trend has changed and not for the better depending on the point of view.
It is common knowledge that the San Diego Padres will be trading their 1st baseman, Adrian Gonzalez come the trade deadline. And this week, Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star/Tribune suggested that the Twins should trade Joe Mauer.
Why are these even options?
Both Gonzalez and Mauer are natives of the city they play for. Both are young, emerging superstars; the kind of players a franchise should build around. These guys aren’t aging overpaid former stars in decline. These are guys are just hitting their prime. Mauer won the MVP last year. Gonzalez won his 2nd consecutive Gold Gloves, led the NL in walks, and in canyon-esque Petco Park, had 40 home runs (only 22 more than the next Padre). Why would teams even think of trading these guys?
Well, as Souhan writes:
"A trade could yield a closer to replace Joe Nathan...A statistician or scout might argue that he might never duplicate his remarkable 2009 season, that he has been plagued by injuries, that the Twins are high on catching prospect Wilson Ramos, that the franchise might be better off spending the $200 million it might take to sign Mauer on a handful of other players.
Matt Snyder of MLB Fanhouse wrote a while back:
The problem here is that the Padres can't be ready to compete for the next two years. They aren't anywhere near competing. They need a large quantity of good young players, and dealing a player as attractive as Gonzalez would be on the open market is the best way to land several stellar prospects.
For the casual Padres fan, the thought of moving Adrian Gonzalez may just seem like a salary dump. That couldn’t be further from the truth, it is more a matter of trading a guy that you will not be able to sign...As I previously mentioned, the Padres trading AGON is far from a salary dump, but a move the team will need to make to ensure they are able to earn maximum value for the organizations long-term outlook.
But is that the truth? In a 2007 New York Times article, they cite:
A longtime banker, the 92-year-old Pohlad (owner of the Twins) is tied for 114th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest people in the country with a fortune estimated at $3.1 billion...He is the wealthiest baseball owner..."
And with the Twins moving into a new stadium, thereby generating even more revenue for the Twins and the Pohland family, how could the Twins cry poverty?
San Diego’s Petco Park is only six years old...Heck, Milwaukee is the No. 35 media market, smallest in the majors. Yet, the Brewers offered left-hander CC Sabathia a $100 million free-agent contract after the 2008 season. Their owner, Mark Attanasio, recently said he wants to keep first baseman Prince Fielder, who—like Gonzalez—will be a free agent after the 2011 season.
So is it the truth that the Padres and the Twins just can't sign these homegrown, young stars? Rosenthal continues:
If the Padres land a few potential building blocks, then plow their savings on Gonzalez into player development, more power to them. But the idea of building around such a player — an almost-perfect player for San Diego, really — should not be so easily dismissed...The Padres will be around $40 million — a number that almost certainly is far below the total they will collect in revenue sharing and central-fund payouts.
So what is it exactly that is preventing these teams from signing what should obviously be talented, popular stars?
In an older article written on baseballsuite101.com, James Lincoln Ray writes that when small market teams get the revenue sharing money from richer teams and spend it on players, success often follows.
The Colorado Rockies are a fine example. The Rockies used all of the $16 million they received in 2006 revenue sharing dollars to increase their payroll in 2007, and that certainly helped the team win this year's National League pennant. The Detroit Tigers are another success story. They used revenue sharing dollars to attract free agents Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez, and those players helped the Tigers climb from a team that won just 43 games in 2002 to a club that won the American League pennant last year.
Ray goes on to write that some baseball teams don't use the money they receive to better their ballclub—a contention Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and Red Sox owner John Henry have often vehemently complained about. Instead they just pocket the money, a windfall for the owners.
One reason that some clubs fail to improve is that they don't use their revenue sharing dollars to attract free agents or to retain homegrown players. (Emphasis mine.)
This January the New York Daily News's Bill Maddon reported that Commisioner Bud Selig was going to crack down on "baseball's revenue-sharing welfare cheats." Maddon quotes John Henry:
"Change is needed and that is reflected by the fact that over a billion dollars have been paid to seven chronically uncompetitive teams, five of whom have had baseball's highest operating profits.
According to sources familiar with what went down between Selig and Players Association honchos last week, the union has targeted four teams—the Marlins, Pirates, Rays and the Padres.
In an interview with Padre owner Jeff Moorad, Hamilton was told by Moorad that:
The gross revenue of the club is something in the range of $150 million. Most clubs have a payroll half the amount of the gross revenue. The Padres have to pay $20 million a year in stadium bonds. Moorad wouldn't change that because we have one of the better stadiums in all of baseball. He believes that the Padres can maintain a $70-80 payroll in the future.
Last year, the Padres spent about $37.8 million in payroll and the Opening Day payroll should be about $36 million. One question: Mr. Moorad, $70-80 minus 20 equals $50 to 60 million. Why isn't the payroll where you said it would be? And if there is a difference of rough 15 to 25 million, couldn't you use that to sign local favorite and entering the prime of his career, Adrian Gonzalez? Couldn't you build around him?
And Mr. Pohlad, with a new stadium generating new revenue, and your family value estimated at 2.6 billion dollars, is it really impossible to sign the MVP and hometown hero, Joe Mauer? Couldn’t he be the cornerstone of your franchise for the next decade?
There are no rules stating a franchise must spend it’s money on anything it doesn’t feel like it should. But when 2 hometown favorites—young, immensely talented, and good guys; perfect cornerstone material for a franchise—are being shunned by their own teams, when these teams obviously have the money to spend, it’s time for baseball to step in. Because it is a disgrace, and it shouldn’t stand.